“The way is hard,” said the hermit. “First you must cross a fiery plain. If you so much as utter a cry, the flames will engulf you. Then you must cross an icy sea. Again, you will perish if you make a sound. Lastly you must climb the treacherous Crystal Mountain to reach the fairies’ palace.”Ruth Sanderson, The Crystal Mountain
I recently reread The Crystal Mountain by Ruth Sanderson. It’s a gorgeous picture book fairy tale that she created by weaving together two tales from two very different places – “The Magic Brocade” from China and “The Princess on the Glass Hill” from Norway.
The tale itself is beautiful and contains all the hallmarks of an adventure tale – three trials, a magical helper, and a worthy but unassuming hero. It’s a beautiful story about a woman who weaves a tapestry depicting a beautiful garden from her dreams. The tapestry is stolen away by the fairies and the woman, heartbroken at its loss, begs her sons to retrieve it for her. The first two, who are described in heroic terms as amazingly strong and amazingly smart (respectively), both decide to not even attempt the perilous journey and go to the city to live instead. The youngest son, who is a dreamer and a musician, decides to try to get to the fairies’ palace for his mother and bring back her tapestry. And of course, he is the one who succeeds.
The art is exquisite. I always love Sanderson’s art, but this story with it’s tapestries and armored horses and fairy maids really gives her room to stretch her skills. The fire leaps off the page and you can almost count the stitches in the tapestries! The fairies wear gowns I would love to have in my closets and sport delicate wings flowing from their shoulders.
While the story is a melding of two very different tales, it is clearly woven by a storyteller familiar with the feeling of fairy tales. It genuinely feels like it could be a centuries old tale instead of a relatively new one built out of old pieces! I even loved how the romance came out and the ending that leaves the way open for the characters to have lives beyond the story.
I really loved this book and find it a beautiful story with fantastic illustrations. I would definitely recommend this one if you enjoy fairy tales!